Doping cases mar Japan's fair play image ahead of 2020 Games


Revelations about doping in recent years have shaken the very foundations of the Japanese sporting world and its reputation for fair play.

Many cases from cycling, swimming, speed skating and other disciplines are viewed as careless violations, with athletes thoughtlessly buying sports supplements without regard to the risk of consuming banned substances.

It is undeniable, however, that such incidents have scarred the clean image Japan has built up over the years. With just two years until the 2020 Olympics, many are questioning whether the nation’s athletes and sports associations have a good understanding of the issues.

In January, revelations about the unprecedented misconduct of a Japanese canoeist shocked the public after he spiked the drink of a rival to frame him for doping.

Toshihiko Furuya, a senior official of the Japan Canoe Federation, expelled the canoeist but said he regretted “not being able to reach deep down into (the athlete’s) heart.”

Furuya admitted holding back from getting involved despite knowing of the canoeist’s weaknesses, as he was a mature athlete with an established career. In response, the association introduced mental training to provide psychological care to athletes.

It also improved its structure by setting up multiple seminars and interviews with the athletes to prepare them for the severe stress of the Olympic qualifying trials.

Olympic swimming medalist Takeshi Matsuda, who retired two years ago and joined the Japan Anti-Doping Agency’s athlete committee, said he would have enjoyed competing in his home country in 2020.

Matsuda had a hard time finding sponsors amid Japan’s harsh economy before the previous Olympics. But some of Japan’s less than elite athletes are now receiving generous support as Tokyo is the host city.

Some may choose the wrong path with supplements if expectations get too high, Matsuda warned.

“We have to be aware of the possibility of athletes having the weakness of buckling under pressure and reach the conclusion that they have to do something dishonest,” he said.

The Japanese Olympic Committee made a significant revision to its integrity education this year. The review includes expanding the training to include coaches and sports associations, which were previously ignored.

Daisuke Ueda, the JOC’s education director, said that “sharing” will be key to preventing future misconduct.

At meetings of representatives from 41 sports associations, people involved in groups with past problems serve as speakers and reflect on the causes, how they responded and the lessons they learned.

The meetings are the JOC’s attempt to make sports associations learn from their mistakes. Feedback has been favorable so far, with participants saying these experiences were exactly what they wanted to know.

Ueda said such education efforts will “remain a legacy from the intangible side” of the Tokyo Games.

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